The future of innovation: Design Thinking

To innovate, you must design.

Innovation is hard.
We now know, thanks to Rita McGrath (Professor, Columbia Business School and author of the End of Competitive Advantage) that there is no such thing as sustainable competitive advantage. We live in a very unpredictable world where the rate of change is accelerating at geometric proportions. New technologies disrupt once novel creations making it difficult for companies to settle. Welcome to a world of transient Competitive Advantages. Innovation has become an imperative for enterprises irrespective of industry to evolve new methods, products and business models. The era of white space and blue ocean may have been lost forever. Ours is a post modern world where the factors of production have become commodities. Even patents aren’t sure fire ways. If you doubt this, ask Apple. Yet, innovation remains the only viable solution to the problem of commoditization and the curse of sameness.

Roomba versus Dyson
For decades, the vacuum cleaner industry competed on suction power. Companies like Dyson dominated the market with high-powered vacuum cleaners. In the case of Dyson, it extended its dominance to the hand dryer segment where it commanded huge margins. Dyson was invincible but like everything in our today world, nothing quite lasts forever. iRobot came into the scene with a unique value proposition built around convenience. Roomba is iRobot’s solution to an industry that basked in the euphoria of suction power. iRobot is positioned not only as a challenger brand but a leader in innovation. So what could be responsible for this? The simple answer is Design Thinking! By applying empathy + insight + iteration + agile engineering + storytelling, iRobot created a superior solution that resonates with millions of users globally. Design thinking is a sure way to achieve success on a whole new level.

Empathy and more
Design Thinking as a practice is not an entirely new concept especially in the design world. A lot of the principles that govern Design Thinking are deeply rooted in such philosophies like the German Bauhaus tradition which asserts the marriage of form and function as key ingredient for design. Jacob Jensen; a danish design studio for many years have embraced this in creating and co-creating products across many consumer categories. Part of the principle of Design Thinking is the maxim that less is more and that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. The big idea in Design Thinking is that much more than anything, every creative process must be grounded in Empathy. Empathy is a capability and it demands some deep affectionate almost paternal immersion into the subject matter. It demands vulnerability and ownership of the problem at hand. This practice demands fellowship with would-be users and consumers right from ideation. Empathy trumps intuition and while there are instances where relying on consumers for inspiration may be impossible, it helps nevertheless to connect to the users in some way. The other elements (insight + iteration + agile engineering + storytelling) are equally crucial.

Insight speaks to arriving at a unique tested hypothesis about what drives consumer behaviour. There is a WARNING here and this has to with dealing with biases, prejudices and assumptions. No sacred cows are allowed. Everything is subject to review. Nothing is cast in stone. Iteration speaks to continuous revision of the theory and solution until one gets to a very thorough conclusion. Agile engineering speaks to rapid prototyping. In Business Model Innovation and Lean Start-up Movement, the output of application of prototyping is called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The power of story telling remains potent. The field of Dream Marketing suggests that people don’t buy the WHAT but the WHY. This is what explains why Microsoft’s Zune even though reliably (based on reviews) a better product than iPod isn’t as successful as the latter. Storytelling is a very powerful tool for brands to compel users to join its tribe. Seth Godin in his widely read book; Tribes alludes to the wisdom that people want to be a part of the cool stuff. Storytelling is one of the ways of being cool. The Design Thinking process is a very thorough method.

Differentiate or Die!
Since Jack Trout posited decades ago in his widely read book on positioning, marketers at large have sought to enchant consumers to choose their brands. Positioning at its core is a battle of minds and hearts. The only way for businesses today to not only survive but thrive against the odds and the threats posed by creative destruction is to apply Design Thinking across the enterprise.

Image Credit: Google<


Femi Oni

Femi’s overarching purpose is to inspire brands (individuals, organisations and nations) to unlock potentials to achieve sustainable growth and impact. His mission is to mentor 1000 brands in Africa and beyond by 2025.

Specialties and Interests: Business Model Design & Innovation, Visioning, Strategy Design & Execution, Project Management, Change Management, Strategic Branding, Operations Excellence, Process Modelling, Product Management, Productivity Management, Entrepreneurial Leadership (Startups), , Social Evangelism, Education, Sustainability, Cybernetics, Risk & Compliance.